1 of 4 | ”Son of a Critch," starring Benjamin Evan Ainsworth (L) and Mark Critch, airs Monday nights. Photo courtesy of The CW
NEW YORK, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- Executive producer Andrew Barnsley says that even though his coming-of-age comedy, Son of a Critch, is set in 1980s Canada, it explores universal themes, and that viewers of all ages and backgrounds can connect to it.
"It's a multigenerational story. There is something for everybody there. Even though the show is very specific in its time and place, it's very relatable," Barnsley told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
Whether he is in Toronto or New York or California, he said, he hears people say, "That's my childhood!'"
Based on the best-selling memoir from Mark Critch, Season 1 of the show airs on The CW on Monday nights.
In it, Critch plays a fictionalized version of his local radio personality father, Mike; Malcolm McDowell plays Mike's retired father Patrick; and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth plays Mark, a sweet 11-year-old obsessed with old entertainers like Johnny Carson, Don Rickles and Dean Martin.
The show aired in Canada first, and fans have been telling Barnsley they enjoy watching the episodes with their kids since it is the rare primetime comedy that doesn't contain obscene language or sexual situations.
"We've been lucky enough to get that feedback, coast to coast, in Canada, but we're starting to get it from the U.S., as well. It's a show that people are tuning into with their families and it's bringing families back together," he said.
The Critches are quirky, middle-class and, unlike many other TV families, functional and affectionate toward each other.
"Thankfully, we have Mark's [real] family to point to and he has so much love for his family and his parents and that definitely needed to come across," Barnsley said.
"That's how Mark remembers his parents, and that's really with a big heart and love," the producer added. "It's never mean. These are nice people wanting what's best for each other. ... It's almost refreshing and novel to see that."
Satirizing his own father has been a surreal experience, Critch said.
"Can you imagine? It's your first day in hair and makeup and you walk out of there and look in the mirror and it's your dad staring back at you," Barnsley said.
"This is Mark's life, and it really was so important to honor that, to respect it, to make sure that it was presented in an authentic way," he added.
"Not only did Mark play his dad, get dressed like his dad, steer into the nuances of the dad that he had, but it all happens in a rebuilt house meant to look like his childhood house. Some of the furniture is the same. Some of the appliances are the same."
Getting the right actor to play young Mark was no easy feat. The creative team auditioned tweens from all around Canada.
"That was such an important role to cast because the whole series hangs on that role and that performance," Barnsley said.
The filmmakers enlisted the help of the casting directors, who found the stars of Derry Girls, a hit series they felt shared a similar sensibility with Son of a Critch.
That's who recommended 12-year-old Ainsworth, who was hot off of Disney's live-action version of Pinocchio.
"He auditioned and that was the home run we were looking for," Barnsley said, noting the child actor exceeded their expectations.
"Benjamin took it so seriously," he added. "I don't think I've met a more professional actor before in my life. He is wise beyond his years. He just knew what to do listened to the words on the pages and listened to the showrunners and the creators and the directors."
Asked if Ainsworth understood why decades-old jokes from Rickles, Carson and even Eddie Murphy, a young gun at the time, were funny, Barnsley admitted, "There definitely had to be some awareness-raising."
"But he is an old soul and somebody who wants to dig into all that and wants to learn about it," he added. "Showing a 12-year-old [Murphy's comedy special] Delirious just doesn't work anymore, but he definitely needed to understand the cultural references."
Another casting coup for the Critch crew was A Clockwork Orange and Time After Time alum McDowell.
"That man is a legend. Not only does he bring so much on camera, but he is just such a powerful presence for good off-camera," Barnsley said. "He's just embraced the show. He's become part of the community."
The producer never thought McDowell would sign on to star in a family comedy at this stage of his career.
"All of us were like: 'What? That's not possible. That's not happening,'" he recalled, explaining that the casting directors insisted on giving McDowell a try.
"He read the script and he came back to us and asked, 'How do we make this work?'" Barnsley said. "The script connected with him on such a deep level, that he was like, 'We have to figure out a way to work together on this.'"